Enid T. is the renowned founder of the Pet Loss Support program at Dove Lewis Animal Hospital- among one of the first in the country- where she helped community members grieve the loss of their beloved companion animals. As a long-term volunteer at Multnomah County Animal Services, behind the scenes, Enid gives the gift of life to countless kittens as a foster volunteer.
Stages of Grief
With a Masters Degree in Social Work, Enid began her professional career in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit at Kaiser Permanente- Sunnyside. In 1985, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the “stages of grief” she hypothesized were relatively new, but beginning to enter the clinical ideology at the time as a serious and important concept. Part of Enid’s role at KP Sunnyside was to support grieving parents. One practice was to invite parents to hold their stillborn baby in a rocking chair, and to give them time to express themselves, and process what they were feeling.
“Even though they were so sad, seeing people begin to heal was inspiring,” Enid says. “People WILL heal from the grief. Even though they are hurting and their losses are devastating, we have to give them permission to express their feelings, and validate them.”
Enid read a book by Jamie Quackenbush, a social worker who began leading a pet loss support group at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and wrote about their experiences. Having a deep connection with animals, and experience in the area of grief counseling, Enid was inspired to create her own pet loss support group in Portland. At the time, Enid’s idea received wide-eyed looks from her personal veterinarian, who felt more capable and comfortable providing medical care and support to cure and save animals, rather than helping pet owners cope with the aftermath of pet loss.
When Enid reached out to DoveLewis Emergency Veterinary Animal Hospital about her idea in 1986, administrators saw promise in the idea of a grief loss support group, and Enid soon received the green light to launch. Enid then led the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support group until retiring in 2019.
Soon after starting the pet loss support group at DoveLewis, Enid began noticing the neonatal kittens that concerned community members brought to the animal hospital for care. Since newborn kittens are also considered strays, they fall under the jurisdiction of Multnomah County Animal Services. Enid made arrangements to help care for kittens as a volunteer after they were passed from DoveLewis to MCAS. “Back in the day, being a foster volunteer was more of an informal relationship,” Enid says. “I really appreciated when MCAS was able to look after the medical needs of these babies and help find them new homes, and I was grateful to be a part of that.”
Enid served as a foster volunteer for many years, and then took a sabbatical for several years until she noticed a new inspiring development. MCAS started a pilot program for Kitten Triage, consisting of a separate space where a dedicated staff member could look after the needs of kittens when they arrived at the shelter, and then coordinate care with volunteer foster homes. Enid was used to the informal foster arrangement of years past, where saving kittens was largely dependent on resources and foster homes being readily available at the time of intake. However, THIS development was a comprehensive program to help every kitten receive the care they needed without any of them falling through the cracks. In conjunction with the kitten triage program, the volunteer foster program was now more formalized, and recruiting. Enid started fostering again to help out.
One of Enid’s favorite part of fostering kittens is the social bridge that kittens build with neighbors and other community members.
“When I take in the babies, it’s such a beautiful connector with people to bring so much joy. So many people have never touched or held a baby kitten. It’s an opportunity to give people a shot of those endorphins that come from holding and feeding a bottle-baby kitten. It’s magic to see the tenderness of the moment, and how it seeps into their soul.”
“My neighbors two doors down, a six year old girl and nine year old boy, would come over twice a week while their mama was going through breast cancer treatment. I had kittens at the time, and the little girl told her mom- ‘the best part of my week is when I get to play with the kittens.’ We save animals, allowing foster families to nurture and socialize them into loving creatures. We get to meet with other people and teach about compassion, and love… but also loss. When the girl said goodbye to the kittens before they were adopted, it was sad, but she knew they were going to an amazing home. She learned that it’s ok to say goodbye.”
“In my career, there were SO many layers to my work in pet loss at the Animal Hospital, and fostering kittens. For the veterinary community at DoveLewis, even though they work with animals day in and day out, there was still something special about visiting with my foster kittens for the staff.”
“Fostering bottle babies includes some challenges. I have lost a couple of kittens, and that’s always a risk with the little ones. It’s always heartbreaking. But we know we did everything we could to save them. I’ve learned skills from Jackie, the Kitten Triage Coordinator. She taught me how to nebulize, tube feed, and even how to give little tiny enemas. The Animal Health team at MCAS is so supportive and trusting to teach regular people how to meet the needs of the tinies.”
“I’ve made new friends from people who adopted bottle babies. Then they network with their friends and relatives to adopt.”
Grief is the Other Side of Love
For those grieving a pet, Enid encourages getting your hands back in fur to help with healing. Even if it’s by volunteering or visiting with a friend’s pet if you aren’t ready for another relationship with a companion animal.
“In my last year running the pet loss support group for DoveLewis, there was a couple in attendance who held up a photo of a little black and white kitten. They told me ‘seventeen years ago, we adopted a little kitten from you. You probably don’t remember us, but this cat has been the love of our life for seventeen years. Here are some pictures of her. We can’t thank you enough for fostering her and giving her to us.’”
“That experience tied everything together for me, because grief is the other side of love. It’s a reflection of the love and bond they share with a person or an animal.”
Fostering a Dog
After retiring from DoveLewis in 2019, Enid had aspirations to volunteer more at MCAS, and with the Oregon Zoo. COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works, but Enid has found other ways to offer support. This is the first time she has fostered a dog in a long time, and she enjoys seeing how her cats and other dog have helped welcome them to the family.
“I love being an ambassador- I take the dogs to the park each day, and love sharing the amazing work that we do. When people say ‘what a cute dog,’ I say- she’s a foster dog!”
Enid never worried about becoming a foster failure by adopting fostered kittens, and was adamant that she could help others who were struggling to also see the light- that the animals they cared about would find wonderful adoptive homes.
Three years ago- two teeny tiny baby kittens were brought into DoveLewis. Enid brought them straight home. But one wasn’t thriving. “My hand was held every step of the way to help the one that wasn’t thriving, and Jackie was giving me daily advice on what to do,” Enid says. “Sadly, the one passed away, but the other one lived and thrived. We named him Pinkerton. He was an only child type of kitten. When it was time to bring him back and get him neutered, I was ready to give him back for adoption. But my husband asked me why we always adopt them out. I explained that we are a foster home, and we raise these little beans to go out to amazing families. He countered- ‘But we’re an amazing family.’ So I asked him if he was truly ready to start another twenty year commitment. He said ‘if not now, when?’”
Enid adopted Pinkerton. There was another kitten that needed some care, who was black and white, and younger than Pinkerton. They called her Teeny Lulu. Now she’s Biggie- Lu.
Advice for Interested Volunteers
Enid’s advice for those interested in volunteering is to “run, don’t walk. Listen. Find out about volunteering. Go to the trainings. There are so many ways to volunteer once in-shelter volunteer activities resume after COVID-19. You can be hands on with the animals, or offer support by doing laundry or help in the office. There are lots of volunteer opportunities, and different shifts.”
Thank you, Enid, for your compassionate and caring volunteer service to the pets and people of Multnomah County.